Founded in 2011, TunnelBear Inc. was acquired by the cybersecurity giant McAfee in 2018, which means that the Canada-based VPN provider now also falls under the privacy-challenged US jurisdiction.
The good thing is that John McAfee himself is not a fan of the NSA. The bad thing is that he’s also not a big fan of his own products, naming McAfee antivirus tools “the worst products in a f**king planet.”
In this TunnelBear review, I will try to answer the following questions: does it protect your privacy well enough? Can I stream Netflix and other services? Does TunnelBear VPN allow torrenting? And finally, is it worth paying for?
- Based in: Canada
- Servers and locations: 1,000+ servers in 20+ countries
- Logs: more than minimal data collection
- Encryption and protocols: main protocols OpenVPN and IKEv2, obfuscation protocol (GhostBear), military-grade encryption (AES-256)
- Netflix: No
- Torrenting: Officially not supported
- Apps: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Chrome, Firefox, Opera
- Support: no live chat
- Price: from $4.99/month
- Free version or trial: Yes, 500 MB per month
- Website: tunnelbear.com
Security and privacy features
TunnelBear is safe to use as long as you have nothing to hide. After all, it was the first VPN company to initiate an independent self-audit that’s been done two years in a row now.
Both free and premium versions of TunnelBear VPN are equipped with great security and privacy features. On second thought, you would expect a bit more from a paid VPN service.
Encryption and tunneling protocols
TunnelBear uses top-notch AES-256 encryption – the same you will find in banks and the military. This cipher is so strong that it would take billions of years to crack it using brute force.
When it comes to tunneling protocols, TunnelBear uses:
- Obfuscation (GhostBear)
The first two are an industry-standard both in terms of speed and security. The last one should be used in countries where internet access is restricted to avoid government-induced blocks. Just have in mind that all obfuscation protocols severely impact speed, and TunnelBear has it turned on by default.
TunnelBear’s kill switch is named VigilantBear. It’s effective against leaking sensitive information in case the VPN connection drops. If that happens, VigilantBear will shut down your internet connection completely.
Unfortunately, it’s not available on the iOS devices yet. Users of other platforms can toggle the kill switch on and off from the client’s Security Settings.
No identity leaks
During the test, no DNS or WebRTC (IPv6) leaks that could reveal your identity were found.
TunnelBear uses its own DNS servers, giving you protection against DNS leaks. It means that your ISP has no idea of what sites you visit. If you want to make sure you’re not susceptible to the other leaks, turn WebRTC off on your browser. Alternatively, you can disable IPv6 for the whole connection.
I also recommend running both IP and DNS leak tests for yourself to make sure your connection is protected. You can easily find different tests by searching for “dns leak test” and “ip leak test.”
Canadian jurisdiction raises privacy concerns
Canada is where TunnelBear VPN is based, and that’s not great because this country belongs to the Five Eyes alliance. What’s more, TunnelBear was bought by McAfee in 2018, which is under the US jurisdiction. McAfee himself is not a big fan of NSA, but both countries are known for tough anti-piracy laws and make TunnelBear subject to data retention policies.
TunnelBear used to own all their servers, but this is no longer advertised on their website. This means that a service cannot have 100% control over their user’s data being transferred or even stored.
Also, as you will see below, TunnelBear’s logs have a bit of extra information that might prove to be interesting for the authorities. If a VPN provider has truly zero logs, the governments won’t be able to find anything about you.
TunnelBear claims to have a “fierce no-logging policy,” yet it collects and stores some logs about your authentication time, OS version, VPN app version, monthly bandwidth usage, etc. Luckily, it doesn’t include activity inside the network.
I’m not saying that all logging is evil since certain operational processes can only be maintained by having basic data about the users. But TunnelBear is clearly logging more than the needed minimum.
As per TunnelBear’s logging policy, your personal data will be provided to authorities “in the event TunnelBear is served with a valid subpoena, warrant, or other legal document.” Secondly, the VPN says that they “may send data to third-party service providers” for “understanding website analytics” – which could mean almost anything.
TunnelBear allows anonymous payment with Bitcoin, but it doesn’t fully support anonymous purchase. That is because your email address will be your login name, thus it cannot be a throwaway account. In any case, there are still quite a few services that don’t allow anonymous payments with gift cards or cryptocurrencies, so TunnelBear VPN is doing quite a good job in this department.
Speed: lightning-fast or just bearable?
My TunnelBear speed test has found that the results have improved significantly since our last update.
Here are my results without a VPN from a location in Europe:
- Download: 229 Mbps
- Upload: 268 Mbps
- Ping: 3 ms
TunnelBear UK server speed results
- Download: 116 Mbps (49% drop-off)
- Upload: 10 Mbps (96% drop-off)
- Ping: 43 ms
TunnelBear New Jersey, US speed results
- Download: 171 Mbps (26% drop-off)
- Upload: 7 Mbps (97% drop-off)
- Ping: 115 ms
TunnelBear Sydney, Australia speed results
- Download: 132 Mbps
- Upload: 8 Mbps
- Ping: 299 ms
While the nearby UK results have dropped, the overall numbers have increased, leading us to believe that TunnelBear VPN will continue providing fast connection speeds across the globe. Of course, the company doesn’t state how many of their 1,000+ servers are virtual and how many are actually out there in Australia, so I’d advise taking these TunnelBear speed test results with a pinch of salt, and, most importantly, to run your own before buying.
Does TunnelBear support my device?
That’s very likely because this service has apps for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. In addition, browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera are available. Chrome users can also download TunnelBear Blocker, which attacks ads and tracking.
Unfortunately, there’s no support for a router or any other device, so you won’t be able to make TunnelBear your home VPN, even though it allows five simultaneous connections.
TunnelBear apps are pretty similar across the platforms, offering an easy-to-use and simple interface. Most buttons and settings have clear descriptions so that even novice computer users would know what to do to protect themselves online.
TunnelBear desktop apps: Windows and macOS
TunnelBear apps for Windows and macOS are pretty similar, save for the Settings. Both versions offer similar features – switching TCP Override, VigilantBear, GhostBear, and managing Trusted Networks. All these can be toggled by pressing the cogwheel on the top left.
Those who want to connect as fast as possible can simply press the On/Off button at the top left and let the VPN select the best location. You can also choose one from the 20+ countries by pressing the drop-down menu icon.
Most importantly, both macOS and Windows apps are as secure as another. You’ll get the same level of encryption, OpenVPN or IKEv2 protocols, and other features.
TunnelBear mobile apps: Android and iOS (iPhone & iPad)
Downloading Android or iOS version requires you to log in to Google Play Store or App Store respectively. They are as secure as the desktop versions, using the same encryption and protocols. But what they lack is VigilantBear and GhostBear features from the desktop version.
In fact, all Settings that you get by pressing the hamburger menu, save for the Trusted Networks, have nothing to do with privacy or security. While such a lightweight mobile version will be just fine for most users, you should know that without a kill switch (VigilantBear or Android’s native Always-on VPN), you can get exposed if the VPN connection fails. Also, without a stealth protocol (GhostBear), you most likely won’t be able to browse freely in China and other countries where internet access is restricted.
Chrome users might also want to try TunnelBear Blocker that stops ads and tracking attempts, including email pixels, fingerprinting, and ultrasonic tracking.
Check this article to learn more about using TunnelBear.
Netflix and other streaming services
While accessible in the past, Netflix no longer works with TunnelBear, be it the US, the UK, or Australian Netflix library. If it did, though, users even from distant locations would probably have enough connection speed to stream smoothly in HD or even 4K – at least that’s what I got from Fast.com tests.
Free version users probably know that 500 MB per month won’t get them too far if you want to watch Netflix. Unfortunately, the Paid version won’t get you much further either.
When it comes to other streaming platforms, it would be surprising to see TunnelBear unblock BBC iPlayer, Hulu, or Amazon Prime in the near future.
Does it work with Kodi?
TunnelBear is friendly for Kodi. It offers great encryption, protects your IP, and is easy to install and use. The best part is that speeds shouldn’t be of an issue, but you should still test with the Free version first.
As for those who want to use Kodi to see what they shouldn’t see, they should consider a VPN in a friendlier jurisdiction than Canada.
Read here for how to use TunnelBear with Kodi.
Does TunnelBear support torrenting?
No, TunnelBear doesn’t support torrenting, and you shouldn’t use this VPN for P2P. While that doesn’t mean that torrenting won’t work for everyone, don’t expect any help on this matter from the provider – they offer no explanation on their decision.
When it comes to torrenting policies, I don’t recommend using TunnelBear because Canada’s laws require all ISPs and VPNs to log identifiable user info, and its website has zero information about P2P. So, either TunnelBear is lying to the government about keeping such logs, or it’s lying to you about not keeping them.
I suggest you look for a more torrent-friendly VPN if you don’t see your future without P2P action.
Support: a knowledgebase and email
TunnelBear has no live chat support. Hopefully, this VPN will reconsider and provide their 20+ million users with proper and fast live support.
In the meantime, the Help page on its website gives you three options:
- Search the help database
- Browse categories and featured articles
- Log in and submit a ticket
The response to your support ticket usually takes from a few to 24 hours. The TunnelBear support must have gone through some improvements because you can still find older comments with users complaining about slow and useless support.
Pricing: is TunnelBear a good deal?
These are the pricing plans TunnelBear offers:
- 1-month plan: $9.99
- 1-year plan: $4.99/month
- Team: $5.75/month annually for one person
It’s a big bonus that you can try and use TunnelBear for free. This service allows you 500 MB free monthly traffic, which can be extended with an extra 1 GB by tweeting about the VPN on Twitter.
For general users and travelers, even these could be acceptable conditions if the only aim is to access geo-restricted web content or stream some smaller videos. But the more serious VPN fans like political activists, hackers, or torrent users who need unlimited bandwidth a higher level of security, will find the free version useless.
TunnelBear accepts credit cards and Bitcoins. There used to be a PayPal option, and I hope it will return someday, like a Jedi.
One negative touch about the pricing is that TunnelBear doesn’t have a money-back guarantee. Nevertheless, you can always try it for free and see if you get what you want. But to be honest, while these prices don’t look high, you can get better VPNs for the same money that unblock Netflix and support P2P.
Should you buy TunnelBear VPN?
No, you shouldn’t. TunnelBear may be good for casual users that aren’t into streaming and torrenting, but others can easily find a better option at the same price.
Power users will miss customization options, especially for mobile apps, that have virtually none of them.
The free version provides you with the same level of security and privacy, although you’re limited by bandwidth, which almost makes no sense to use it at all unless for a trial.